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WHAT..A...FANTASTIC...GAME!!

We played Catsup today -- on paper, the best team of our 3-team 14U division. They are by far the oldest team, and 9 of their 12 players were All-Stars this summer (including all three of their 10 year olds). Catsup played like the quasi-All Star team they were today for sure. Also, Ramona is known as the "Valley of the Sun", but today it was the "Valley on the Sun" because it was 106 degrees at game time.

1st Inning
Our leadoff batter walked. The next three batters hit the ball for outs, but we could not get a run in (A pop up and two ground outs stranded our runner on third). They got a double and a triple in the first inning, but only scored one run. Score 0-1 Catsup.

2nd Inning:
We hit 2 line drives right at infielders for two outs. That was a theme for us this game -- we hit the ball hard, but right at fielders. Then, our 7th batter in the lineup laid down a perfect drag bunt, and their pitcher air mailed the throw over the first baseman out past the right fielder. Our batter is a basketball star, and her speed got us a pee-wee home run off the bunt, because their 1st baseman dropped the relay throw in her haste to get it home. Those were Catsup's only two errors of the game, and they came at a great time. In the bottom of the inning, Catsup got a runner on, and she ended up scoring. She stole 2 bases and scored on a wild pitch. We got the other three girls out on a strike out and two ground outs. Score: 1-2 Catsup.

Third Inning
Our bottom of the order hit the ball well, but again, right at people. One walk, 3 ground outs, and we're on defense again. Today, that was a good thing. Our left fielder, who has been working really hard on catching fly balls, made a great catch that was sandwiched by two strike outs looking. Score: 1-2 Catsup.

Fourth Inning
Two ground outs and a screaming line drive caught by their first baseman that should have been a triple by Tiny Titans. Catsup gets their first two girls on and their on 2nd and 3rd base with no out. Then strike out looking, strike out, and ground out to pitcher! O.M.G!! It doesn't get any better than that!! Our pitcher stepped up HUGE! Score: 1-2 Catsup.

Fifth Inning
Our leadoff batter for the inning walks. The next THREE batters mistake my "take" sign for a bunt sign, and bunt!?! FRUSTRATING!! Especially since we worked on correctly reading our signs at practice all week long. The good news, though, is that all our work on bunting paid off, so even though I didn't intend for us to do so, we sacrificed a run across (our runner moved from 2nd to 3rd on a wild pitch) as all three girls put down great bunts. Catsup gets a girl on via an error by our third baseman, but gets stranded. Score: 2-2.

Sixth Inning
We get girls on 1st and 2nd, but can't score a run. The time limit (90 minutes) expires as we take the field, so Catsup half of the inning will be the last half inning of the ball game. Strike out looking, strike out swinging, ground out to second. FINAL SCORE: 2-2!! I'll take it!


Stats:
Walks: Tiny Titans: 4; Catsup 1
Errors: 2 for each team
Hits: Tiny Titans: 2; Catsup 4


All in all, it was about the cleanest, exciting, nerve-wracking rec league game you're going to find.

Our pitcher was HUGE, throwing 9 strikeouts. She had a deadly change up going, and struck out at least 3 girls with it and got a couple of the girls to ground out weakly.

Our 10 year old catcher called a HECK of a game, as she's starting to get the hang of changing speed and location, and to pitch backward in some situations.

Our defense played its best game by far, making play after play when we needed it most. Just about everybody made plays when they needed to.

We continue to have bad luck when we're at the plate, putting the ball in play, but right at fielders. Hopefully luck will even out the rest of the season. I love that every single one of our girls is putting the ball in play. The hits will start falling eventually.

My only complaint was the missed signs. I think we would have won if we didn't shoot ourselves in the foot multiple times. There some ties are good, some ties are not-so-good, and this tie felt like a win!


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Yesterday, we did batting stations, then we did a new drill. Our infielders tend to not charge the ball, and then windup and throw to first base. In short, we're too slow fielding and throwing the ball, and in a speed game like Fast Pitch softball that can cause big-time problems.

I set up a base right on the edge of the outfield grass on the first base line, which turned out to be 10 paces from first base. I marked an "X" in the infield about 5 paces from third, then another "X" 10 paces toward 2nd base from the first "X". This made 4 stations: a fielder near third base who throws to first base, and a fielder around where the shortstop plays who throws to the temporary base. Both throwing distances are equal so neither fielder has an advantage.

Me and my assistant coach set up with a bat and a bucket of balls along the first base line, each right in front of a fielder so that the grounders we hit would go about the same distance. The game was the first girl to field the ball and throw it to first wins, and we would play best 2 out of 3. If the fielder lost 2 out of three, she had to do 5 pushups. Then we would rotate stations: Fielder 1 to Fielder 2, Fielder 2 to first base, first base to the temporary base, temp base back to Fielder 1.

Since this was the first time we did the drill and the emphasis was on quickness to first base, we didn't count accuracy -- basically, first throw to the first baseman (or temp bag) or that crossed the first base line won.

It worked out pretty well, and I think the girls like any new drill just because its something new. Definitely a drill that I'll add to my drill library.

Since we played so well on Sunday, I rewarded the girls with a game of over-the-line to finish practice. As usual, there plenty of good-natured grumbling about pitches and whether a ball went over the line or not. I think the next time we play, I'm going to add the rule that if they hit a Whiffle over all the defenders, it is a home run. Most of the girls have improved their hitting to the point where adding this rule makes sense. And it will give them something else to grumble about. smile


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Had everyone but our pitcher for practice yesterday, so we were able to get a bunch of good work in.

We had batting stations, and I used our backup pitcher (my older daughter) for some live pitching. She's starting to get a little more consistent throwing strikes, so I think she's ready for an inning this weekend to see how she does.

Outfield continued to work on catching flies and fielding grounders. In 14U, outfield play is critical, but some of my weaker players have gravitated there (basically because the only position they've ever played previously with other coaches is the outfield and that's where my players are now comfortable), so just getting the basics down with the outfield is a priority for almost every practice.

Infield worked on receiving throw-downs from the catcher, and 1st & 3rd plays. One of the things I hate is surrendering 2nd base just because I don't want the run to score. I much rather have plays in place and either get the girl out at second, or try to get the girl out at third. So we worked on that.

I had to get on my youngest daughter (aka my catcher). She's a natural catcher -- tough, smart, has a great feel for the game and loves the position. However, she is EXTREMELY hard on herself, criticizing the smallest mistake she makes. I've been working on her to ease up on herself, and she is getting better, but yesterday she just wouldn't let it go. Every throw, even as I was saying "good throw", she would be saying "Dang it -- I didn't follow through right!" or something. After a while, I just told her to knock it off, then she starting giving me lip.

I've seen teams where the coach's daughter has no respect for his authority, and it ain't pretty, and I certainly don't want it to happen to my team. So I sent her running around the field with her gear on. When she came back, she started to have a bad attitude. I eventually had to sit her on the bench for part of practice, which is about the worst punishment for her because she loves being on the field. After practice, I had a l-o-n-g talk with her about keeping a positive attitude about herself, and that I could not have her disrespecting me and the team. I think (hope!) she got it.

I had a similar instance happen last year with my older daughter, and I had to come down on her like a ton of bricks (to the point where she was crying). She always had a reputation in every sport that she has played of a girl with all the talent in the world, but she would just go through the motions and not apply herself. She is now a completely different player -- her basketball coach is amazed at her attitude and how hard she works now. I attribute it to that day on the softball fields about a year ago when I wouldn't tolerate her blowing me off at practice. I saw her attitude change immediately, and it has stayed changed ever since.

Anyways, back to practice, we finished up with the bunting game, and I let my youngest play and her attitude had corrected itself and she didn't say a word about any flaws in her game. Hopefully she has learned her lesson.


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We had one of our best practices yesterday. We did batting stations (as usual), then outfield did their thing while we worked on throw downs and 1st and 3rd situations in the infield.

While we were working the infield and outfield, we had a cloudburst over the field. For you folks back East or up North, rain may not seem like a treat, but here in the semi-arid, drought-stricken south west, it is almost manna from Heaven. We kept practicing through the rain, and the girls L-O-V-E-D it.

Afterward, my youngest said, "I felt so tough practicing even though it was raining." Whatever it was, all the girls were FOCUSED and FIRED UP the rest of practice. It was a great thing to see!

We have the floating pitcher this weekend and she'll pitch our 2nd game of the doubleheader tomorrow. Because we had two front-line pitchers at practice, we finished with a scrimmage. The batters started with a full count, and if they watched strike 3 go by, it was 2 outs instead of one out. The teams finished with a 2-2 tie.

We'll see if my girls are as focused this tomorrow. No team so far has won either game of a double header. We lost two the first weekend, the Platypusi lost two the next weekend, and Catsup tied both games last weekend. We'll see if we can break the trend tomorrow. Wish us luck!


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Double header time....

The first game was against the Orange Platypusi. They got out to a 2 to nothing lead by the bottom of the fourth, which included a bad call at home on what should have been our first run.

This particular umpire is revered in our league -- she is GREAT with the girls, friendly with the coaches, knows the game, has a consistent strike zone, and almost always makes the right call. Except this time smile From the 3rd base coach's box, it sure looked like my girl got in well before the tag, but Blue called her out. I waited until she had cleaned off the plate, then called time, walked up to her and asked her what she saw (and told her what I thought I saw). She said that the catcher blocked my girl off the plate. I just said, "OK," and walked back to my box. What are you going to do? Between innings, she and I talked about the play again and I said, "That's alright, we have to score more runs to win anyway." Two innings later, we did.

Bottom of the fourth, still 0-2, then walk and inside-the-park home run (really! no errors on the play). 2-2. Walk, stolen base, hit. 3-2. Error. 4-2. Fly out, error, error. 6-2. Then strikeout, and then our newest girl got thrown out at home because she pulled up before getting home. Sigh...she'll learn.

The top of the 5th got interesting. With 2 outs, they got 5 hits in a row and scored 3 runs before a grounder to first ended the game. Final score: 6-5 Tiny Titans!!

--------------

Our second game Catsup was the opponent (this is the team that is mostly All-Stars and in my opinion is the best team on paper, even with their weak pitching).

The league's floating pitcher was our pitcher for this game -- she was also my starting pitcher for my Spring team, so I know her well. She is like Greg Maddux -- not dominating speed-wise, but can hit her locations and has a lot of movement on the ball. Well, the first inning, she was grooving them right in the middle of the plate and what velocity she does have was down because she wasn't driving off the rubber. In short: she was a batting machine, and Catsup made her pay. 7 runs before we even got up to bat.

As I said to the girls after the game, it would have been real easy for them to give up then. We'd already won one game, we were a little tired, and we were down big early. That's what a normal team would have done. As I'm delighted to keep finding out, these girls are not a normal team. They have heart, guts, grit, and never ever quit.

We came back with 2 runs of our own in the bottom of the 1st to make it 2-7. My older daughter has been taking pitching lessons for more than a month now, and I wanted to get her an inning because she was starting to be consistent around the strike zone. The plan was for her to pitch the 2nd inning, because I figured that would have been near the bottom of Catsup's order and she would have an easier time. I didn't count on Catsup batting around the first inning.

As my daughter was warming up before the start of the 2nd inning, my wife came up to me and said, "Uh...their top of the order is up. Are you sure you want Jordan to pitch?" I answered that yep, I wanted to see how she did, and if she got pummeled, I'd pull her out. A walk, a wild pitch, one ground out which scored 1 run, and two walks later and set up the play of the game.

Runners on 1st and 2nd, 1 out, and their clean-up hitter (14U All-Star) is up. She is a lefty, and I have our 2nd baseman playing on the edge of the grass of the outfield. The batter smokes a grounder to 2nd. Our 2nd baseman (the girl who hadn't played softball since she was 7) fields the ball cleanly and throws the ball to 1st. Their lead runner (14U All-Star) is one of the fastest girls in the league, and doesn't even break stride as she rounds 3rd and heads for home.

Our first baseman, who is normally our pitcher, catches the ball for the 2nd out of the inning, and immediately fires a laser beam (here's the throw) to our 70-pounds-soaking-wet catcher who gets the ball (here's the play at the plate!!) as the runner is sliding (HOLY COW! I think she's going to make it!). Down goes our catcher to her knees as she catches the ball, perfectly blocking the plate so that the runner slides right into her thighs, and applies the tag for the out and the double play. Our catcher is a girl who usually doesn't cry unless she gets hurt REALLY bad, and she was crying a little as she came off the field (getting spiked in the thighs will do that), but she was fine a few minutes later.

Now the score is 2-8. We go down in order in the bottom of the 2nd, and they score another run in the top of the third (the floating pitcher pitched from here on out). 2-9.

We score 3 in the bottom of the third. Hold them scoreless in the top of the fourth, then score another run in the bottom of the fourth. Now the score is 6-9. Top of the 5th, last inning (because of time) and their 2nd, 3rd, and 4th batters are up. Ground out to 3rd (huge to keep that speed off the bases), strike out looking, then ground out to 2nd (their power hitter tries to pull everything, so if you keep it low and outside, she'll roll over that pitch and hit a grounder to 2nd most of the time). 3 up, 3 down. 3 runs down. Last at bat. Top of the order up.

Our lead off batter hit a towering fly to left for the first out. Then we walked, singled, and had runners on 2nd and 3rd due to a passed ball. The next single brought in 2 runs, so now we're down by 1 with one out. Our next batter gets on via error, making it first and third, then steals second. Winning run on 2nd base, 1 out. Up steps my older daughter, who laced a double in the gap. Ball game! (The Titans won the game! The Titans won the game!!)

Phew! We were the first home team to win this season, and we did it twice, and came back late in the game to do it both times. I am so proud of those girls!


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Worked on batting stations and infield/outfield as we have usually done over the past couple of weeks. Afterward, to reward the girls for their awesome effort this weekend, we introduced a new game to them: Softball Football.

Softball Football is just like Frisbee Football, except you play with a ball and glove. It took the girls a few minutes to get the hang of it, but then they were off to the races. It instantly became a favorite, as all the girls wanted to play again next practice. Us coaches were having as much fun cheering them on from the sidelines as they were having.

I love games that have the girls work on their skills while they don't know about it. Softball Football teaches them to catch on the run, and throw to a moving target (like to the second baseman moving to second base on a force). Also, it is a thinking/reaction game, and our girls still need improvement in that area. Finally, it is a conditioning drill, as after a few minutes running around trying to get open for throws, most of the girls were out of breath.

We finished practice by handing out tickets earned from our two games to exchange for booty, and then we surprised them with cupcakes.

Oh, and if you remember, one of our players had to quit because of a foot injury about a month and a half ago. Well, she's better now and rejoined the team last night, so that was really cool too.


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A simple practice yesterday: batting stations, then almost an hour of the bunting game using a pitching machine (we only had one pitcher today -- my oldest daughter missed practice 'cause she's sick).

I tried something a little new today. Instead of using pitching machine balls, I used regular balls our of our league's Jugs batting machines. The batting machine balls are softer and made of rubber, and are therefore easier to hit and bunt. I wanted our batters to get a more "real" feel of the ball off the bat while bunting, so I tried real balls with the machine.

Real balls out of the machine worked well. I was afraid the machine would put a crazy spin on the ball making it too inaccurate, but generally it threw the real balls true. There was a little more movement than with batting machine balls, which I liked, but not enough to put the batter in danger, which I liked even more.

The ball did take some strange bounces off the bat and on the ground. I don't know if that's because of increased spin coming off the pitching machine, or the fact that our infield is like concrete and needs to be spike-dragged. Something to watch for the next time I try real balls out of the machine (and hopefully with a softer field). Also, it is hard on the balls -- I couldn't do this for a whole season without replacing a bucket of balls at the end.

After practice, we had pizza to further celebrate our good play on Sunday, plus it was just time for a team meal together.

Also, the girls had requested I include "Smarties" candy in the booty, and I finally remembered to buy some. A lot of girls had been saving their tickets just for Smarties, so they went through half the bag while exchanging tickets. I *think* the booty is a hit -- it'll be interesting to see what the end-of-season evaluations say.


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Only had half of the team today, and none of our pitchers, so we just did batting stations, then worked on infield plays (we only had one of our normal outfielders, so she set up as our pitcher).

Then we put all of our girls out in the outfield and had them working on outfield drills just 'cause most of those girls don't get a chance to work on outfield drills much.

We finished up by throwing them some pitches so they'd get some live pitching and calling it a day.


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Another great game by our girls. They just keep doing what I ask them to do. Today, I pointed out that we've come from behind on all our wins, and it would be nice if we got a lead and kept it today. Boy howdy did they ever!

9-0 after 2 innings! We played the bunting game for the next 4 innings, and only went station to station on the bases to boot. We lost a little bit of focus in the last innings and the final score was 10-6, but it wasn't nearly that close. We could have won by 30 runs if we wanted to pour it on. However, I hate having the score run up on me (and believe me, it's happened more times than I'd like to admit, especially in All-Stars), so I don't do it, period.

One thing that I did not anticipate is real push-back from my girls when I called off the dogs and we played the bunting game during the game. They still wanted to hit and score, and were having fun doing it! I think I'm going to have to sweeten the pot with tickets for booty if they execute when the bunting game is on.

I had girls intentionally getting 2 strikes on them so that they'd be able to hit away (I still called for the bunt anyway). I told them after the game that there will come a time where they will have to execute a bunt with the game on the line and they'll be happy they got some practice today under game pressure when that time comes.

Other than that, I was really pleased with every aspect of the game. I think I'm going to throw some more advanced concepts and plays at them this week -- I think they're ready for it. These girls deserve more than 3 more weeks of same-ol' same-ol'.

3 weeks...I can't believe the season is almost over!! Right now we're 4-2-1. We're on a 5 game unbeaten streak!


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Monday, we did batting stations (2 stations in the batting cages), and then outfield continued to work on catching fly balls and grounders. They are finally starting to catch most of the balls hit to them -- that's a huge step for most of my outfielders, who before this season were typically the last girls picked for any sport.

Infield worked on putting the tag on a runner. Our catcher's got an accurate arm and a quick release, but my infielders have been getting distracted by the runner bearing in on them, and have dropped the ball or missed the tag on most steal attempts. It is about the only weakness our infield has anymore -- our overall defense is so very much improved from the beginning of the season. I had the catcher throw to second (with second and short alternating the coverage), and then second threw to home. I had first throwing to third and third throwing to first. Every girl who caught the ball had to put a tag on the imaginary runner. This drill also gave them good work on making longish, accurate throws.

Then as a reward for Sunday, we played softball football. It's funny -- this is a game we couldn't have played at the beginning of the season, because a lot of the girls could not catch or throw well, and certainly couldn't do it on the run. Now, even my weakest players are making great catches while under pressure from the defense. It is wonderful to see!!

Finished up with tickets from the game, and I told the girls that tickets earned for base hits, sacrifices, RBI and runs scored while we were playing the bunting game counted double.


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